Why Do Casinos Have to Be On Water

Why Do Casinos Have to Be On Water?


Gambling has been a popular pastime for centuries, and casinos have become an important part of the modern gaming industry. However, if you’ve ever visited a casino, you might have noticed that many of them are located on the water.

This begs the question, why do casinos have to be on the water? The answer to this question is rooted in the history of gambling in the United States and a federal law that requires casinos to be on the water or over water. In this post, we’ll explore the reasons behind this law and its impact on the gambling industry, as well as the economic and practical reasons for having casinos on water. We’ll also discuss the ongoing debate about the future of water-based casinos and their relationship with the gambling industry as a whole.

Historical Context

To understand why casinos have to be on the water, we need to explore the historical context of gambling in the United States. In the early days of the country, gambling was a popular activity, with games like poker and blackjack played in saloons and other establishments. However, gambling was also seen as a vice and was often associated with criminal activity.

In the early 20th century, many states began to pass laws that prohibited gambling, either by banning specific games or outlawing gambling altogether. This led to the creation of illegal gambling operations, often run by organized crime syndicates.

In the 1970s, several states began to legalize gambling as a way to generate revenue and stimulate their economies. However, these states faced a problem: federal law prohibited gambling on land that was not owned by Native American tribes. To get around this restriction, many states began to allow gambling on riverboats that sailed in and out of their ports. These riverboat casino brands at 1 dollar DashTickets article were considered to be on the water, and therefore not subject to the federal law that banned land-based gambling.

Over time, other states followed suit and allowed gambling on riverboats or other vessels that were permanently moored in their waters. Today, there are a number of states that allow gambling on water-based casinos, including Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri. However, the history of gambling on water dates back much further than the 20th century. In fact, riverboats were a popular location for gambling in the 19th century, with games like poker and faro played on board as they sailed up and down the Mississippi River.

Legal Reasons

In addition to the historical context of gambling on water, there are also legal reasons why casinos have to be on the water. The main reason is a federal law known as the Johnson Act, which was passed in 1951. The Johnson Act prohibits gambling on land that is not owned by Native American tribes and requires that all gambling devices be registered with the federal government.

However, the Johnson Act includes an exemption for vessels that are used for gambling on water. Specifically, the law states that gambling on vessels is legal if the vessel is “on the navigable waters, including the territorial sea of the United States, out to a distance of 12 nautical miles from the baseline from which the territorial sea is measured.” This means that water-based casinos can legally operate as long as they are located on a vessel that is on the water, either moving or stationary, and within 12 nautical miles of the U.S. shoreline.

The purpose of the Johnson Act was to regulate and control the gambling industry, which was seen as a potential source of organized crime and corruption. By requiring casinos to be on the water, the law made it more difficult for illegal gambling operations to flourish, as it was easier to regulate and monitor gambling activities on boats than on land.

Over the years, the Johnson Act has been interpreted and enforced by the courts in various ways. Some courts have interpreted the law to mean that a vessel must be in motion to be considered “on the water,” while others have allowed stationary vessels to operate as long as they are not permanently attached to the shore. Some courts have also upheld state laws that impose additional restrictions on water-based casinos, such as limits on the number of vessels that can operate or the hours of operation.

Economic Reasons

In addition to the legal reasons, there are also economic reasons why casinos have to be on the water. One of the main advantages of water-based casinos is that they can attract more tourists and generate more revenue for the local economy.

Water-based casinos are often located in tourist destinations or near major cities, which means they can draw visitors who are looking for entertainment and gaming options. The novelty of gambling on a boat can also be an attraction in itself, particularly for people who have never experienced it before.

Water-based casinos can also generate revenue for the local economy through taxes and fees. Many states that allow gambling on water-based casinos impose taxes on the casinos’ gross revenue or charge fees for the right to operate. This revenue can be used to fund public services or other initiatives that benefit the community.

Water-based casinos can create jobs and stimulate economic growth in the local area. Casinos require a variety of employees, from dealers and pit bosses to servers and janitorial staff, and can provide employment opportunities for people in the community. They can also attract other businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, that can benefit from the influx of tourists and visitors.

The economic benefits of water-based casinos can be significant for the local area and the state as a whole. This is one reason why many states have legalized gambling on water-based casinos and continue to support and regulate the industry.

Practical Reasons

There are also practical reasons why casinos have to be on the water. One of the main reasons is that operating a casino on a boat or other vessel can be less expensive than building a traditional land-based casino.

Building a land-based casino requires a large amount of land, which can be expensive in urban areas or popular tourist destinations. In addition, there are often zoning and building regulations that must be complied with, which can add to the cost and time required to construct the casino.

On the other hand, operating a water-based casino can be less expensive because it doesn’t require as much land or the same level of regulatory compliance. A water-based casino can simply dock at a pier or other mooring location and start operating. This can be particularly advantageous in areas where land is scarce or expensive.

Another practical reason for having casinos on water is that it can be easier to control and regulate gambling activities on boats. Since water-based casinos are required to be on a vessel that is on the water, it can be more difficult for individuals to cheat or engage in other illegal activities. In addition, casinos on boats can be more easily monitored by regulatory agencies and law enforcement.

Finally, the mobility of water-based casinos can be a practical advantage. Since water-based casinos are often located on boats or other vessels, they can be moved to different locations as needed. This can be advantageous for casinos that want to follow the demand for gaming or take advantage of new tourist destinations or markets.

In summary, the practical reasons for having casinos on the water include cost savings, ease of regulation and monitoring, and mobility. These factors have made water-based casinos a popular option for many states and gambling operators.


There are several reasons why casinos have to be on the water, including historical, legal, economic, and practical factors. The history of riverboat gambling in the United States paved the way for the current regulations that allow for gambling on water-based vessels. Federal laws, such as the Johnson Act, created the legal framework for water-based casinos and continue to regulate the industry.

From an economic perspective, water-based casinos can provide significant benefits to the local area and generate revenue through taxes and fees, while also creating jobs and stimulating growth. Practically speaking, water-based casinos can be less expensive to build and operate, easier to regulate, and more mobile than land-based casinos.

Overall, water-based casinos have become an important part of the gambling industry and have provided a unique and entertaining gaming experience for visitors. While the laws and regulations surrounding water-based casinos may continue to evolve, they are likely to remain a popular option for gambling operators and tourists alike.

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